Announced Thursday, Genesis Global Capital wrote $425 million of crypto loans in the first quarter, bringing its total originations since the business launched in March 2018 to $1.53 billion.
Moreover, Genesis’ portfolio of outstanding loans grew 17 percent from the end of last year to $181 million as of March 30. (The average loan is paid off in six weeks, which explains why the amount outstanding at the end of the period is so much smaller than the volume produced during the quarter.)
Of that loan book, bitcoin-denominated loans made up 68 percent, XRP loans 6.7 percent and ethereum and litecoin loans 3.6 percent each.
But perhaps most notably, short sellers now account for only 3 to 5 percent of Genesis’ bitcoin loans, down from about half in early 2018, Michael Moro, the CEO of Genesis’ trading and lending businesses, told CoinDesk.
The ability to sell crypto short, or bet that its price would fall by selling borrowed coins, “was a missing piece for a long time, something that exists in any other existing established world. You can short gold, stocks, why can’t you short cryptocurrency?” Moro said, explaining why Genesis’ loans were initially so popular for this purpose, adding:
“But this speculative bet on the downside of bitcoin started to disappear towards the end of 2018 and now it doesn’t exist.”
The predominant category of borrowers for Genesis now is exchanges and over-the-counter (OTC) trading desks, which prefer to keep clients’ funds in cold, or offline, storage and settle trades with borrowed coins, he said.
If interest in shorting bitcoin has dwindled, that’s not the case for other cryptocurrencies.
“Short sellers pretty much exist in altcoins: ether, litecoin,” Moro said. “Maybe there is some kind of bitcoin maximalism built-in in long term, or the cost of shorting it is too high.”
There was also “a lot of short interest in XRP” during the third quarter of 2018, “but that trend steadily diminished towards the end of the year and hasn’t reignited thus far in 2019,” according to Genesis’ quarterly report released Thursday.
In the report, Genesis shows a clear correlation between the price movements and borrowing activity of the company’s clients. And as ether and litecoin prices go down, the amount of loans rises, Genesis’ charts show.
Interestingly, shorting patterns for different cryptos vary, the analysis shows. For example, for bitcoin, so far in 2019 there is little correlation to be seen between the volume of loans and the price.
For ether and litecoin, the link is clearer: as the price declines, people borrow more coins, and as it goes up they pay back the loans. However, “unlike ETH, LTC borrow returns preceded major rallies rather than trailed – indicating better information or better understanding of momentum in the asset,” the report says.
For example, in early February, there was an uptick in ether shorting when the coin was trading at $100; “loans outstanding ballooned to the highest level over the quarter,” the report says. They dropped 30 percent on February 7, after the price went up to $120. A week later, the price rallied again to $140, lowering the appetite to short.
“Our borrowers likely covered shorts after [the] price had already moved against their positions,” the report suggests.
As for litecoin shorting: in mid-March, clients borrowed a lot as the price was around $60, “another level speculators believed to be a top. But that belief was not correct and yet again, the shorts covered before the price rallied swiftly to $90. Like clockwork, they re-engaged after the price established itself in the $80-90 range,” the report says.
Lending fiat, too
Genesis borrows crypto from “whale” investors, including some individual early bitcoiners, Moro said. The firm borrows at a 4 to 5 percent interest rate and lends at 6.5 to 7.5 percent; the interest is paid in crypto.
The company doesn’t hold these coins in cold storage, Moro said: As soon as a borrower pays back crypto, it gets lent out to another client as soon as possible from the hot wallet.
“Every coin we have is for lending,” he said.
Another, newer part of Genesis’ business is fiat loans, although it’s still in a pilot phase. Launched at the end of 2018, cash loans now account for 10 percent of Genesis’ portfolio.
The clients on this side are hedge funds that want to get some extra operational cash without using their clients’ funds, Moro says. They post 120 percent collateral in crypto and are subject to margin calls if the fiat value of it falls below 105 percent.
The crypto lending market is starting to get more competitive, with firms like BlockFi and Celsius entering the fray. Moro believes the popularity of crypto loans and crypto-collateralized cash loans is due to the fact that investors want to hold their bitcoin, and to the general maturing of the market.
“No one wants to sell bitcoin and people want more of it. As for the institutional investor crowd, many entered the market in 2017, and they are used to [being able to] go long and go short, so you have a match of people who want to lend and borrow. Back in 2014-2015, we didn’t have borrowing demand, these people just were not in business yet.”
Michael Moro image via CoinDesk archives